Readings for Monday, July 9:
Psalm 1, 2, 3 (Morning)
Psalm 4, 7 (Evening)
Numbers 32:1-6, 16-27
O Lord my God, in you I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,
or like a lion they will tear me apart;
they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.
O Lord my God, if I have done this,
if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my ally with harm
or plundered my foe without cause,
then let the enemy pursue and overtake me,
trample my life to the ground, and lay my soul in the dust. Selah
Rise up, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment.
Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you,
and over it take your seat on high.
The Lord judges the peoples;
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
but establish the righteous, you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God.
God is my shield,
who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
and a God who has indignation every day.
If one does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and strung his bow;
he has prepared his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts.
See how they conceive evil,
and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies.
They make a pit, digging it out,
and fall into the hole that they have made.
Their mischief returns upon their own heads,
and on their own heads their violence descends.
I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
and sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. Psalm 7 (NRSV)
Decades ago, when all my friends were in that period of life when they were starting their families, one of my friends in particular had what could have most optimistically been called "a miserable pregnancy." She was rather slight of build, and she wasn't too many months along before she was walking around looking like she had been smuggling items from the sporting goods store--first it looked like she was smuggling volleyballs, then basketballs, and towards the end, beach balls. Worse yet, she was scheduled for an early fall delivery--which meant she had to endure the final few weeks in the 105 degree, 100 percent humidity that we knew as "summer in Missouri." She had to work up to the last couple of weeks, and things as simple as finding clothes to wear on the job became a chore. Her baby was also an incredibly active one, doing somersaults and flip-flops at a moment's notice. We'd watch her unborn baby suddenly distend her huge belly out even further, and it didn't help that the movie "Alien" was one in our recent memory. For the latter half of her pregnancy, she struggled through chronic lower back problems, dealing with a bladder that seemed to be always full, and night after night of unrefreshing sleep because no position in bed was comfortable.
Of course, as luck would have it, she and her husband didn't exactly have a picnic after their daughter was born, either. Young, inexperienced parents, first baby, fussy, colicky, and rather impressive at spitting up her meals--you get the picture. I can only hope that years later, she's enjoying her grandchildren more than she enjoyed being a first-time parent.
It's interesting that even though we are in general agreement that males authored the various books of the Bible, that pregnancies figure strongly in the narratives, and it is rich with pregnancy imagery. Psalm 7 has a real attention-getter in that vein--"pregnant with mischief." Additionally, it's interesting that our psalm describes people filled with evil in such intimate terms--as intimate as sex, and with the power to conceive and bear offspring. It implies that the circumstances that we can become impregnated with sin are myriad. It could be via forcible victimization, or it could be what is best described by the classic line we've heard many times by unfortunate unwed mothers--"Well, it seemed like a lot of fun at the time." Perhaps we were young and naive--or perhaps we thought we took precautions and ended up being pregnant with mischief anyway. Maybe we knew exactly what we were doing at the time and didn't care. Maybe we were a little too tipsy and did something we wouldn't normally do had we been sober.
But when it's all said and done, none of us ever escape the experience of being pregnant with mischief, at least now and again--and what a miserable pregnancy it can be! We can be up nights racked with guilt, and our sleep is not satisfying. We can be slowed by the pain of regret. Even when we are no longer spiritually pregnant, we may be burdened with the care and feeding of a less than optimal situation.
However, the other appointed psalm for this evening, Psalm 4, reminds us that God is present in our misery, and actually resides in the middle of those difficult, miserable places. Can we trust the possibility of experiencing God's presence as a calm midwife who's seen it all and done it all, and can help us to breathe in the rhythm of the labor of bearing and birthing our burdens?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid